Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the 15th Joint Meeting of the Korea-Finland Economic Councils on 26 March 2012

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It is a great pleasure for me to be here today and to attend this festive meeting. I would like to congratulate the Federation of Korean Industries and the Confederation of Finnish Industries for the 15th joint meeting of the Korea-Finland Economic Council. Your longstanding cooperation has certainly helped deepen and strengthen the good relations between our two countries.

The bilateral relations between Finland and South Korea have evolved positively in recent years. One sign of this is the number of high level visits. The President of South Korea visited Finland in 2006 and the Finnish Prime Minister visited South Korea in 2008. I myself visited previously your country in March 2010 – then as the Speaker of the Finnish Parliament.

South Korea is one of Finland’s most important trading partners in Asia. Currently, our bilateral trade is slightly over 1 billion Euros per year. With the new Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and South Korea, there is great potential to develop our bilateral economic cooperation further and beyond traditional trade in goods.

Next year, our two countries will celebrate the 40th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. This is an important milestone in our relations – we have come a long way. Today, both Finland and Korea are prosperous, democratic and innovative nations. One symbol of our close relations is that Finland is one of the few places in Europe where you can take a direct flight to Seoul.

At the 2010 Summit, the European Union and South Korea decided to upgrade their bilateral relations to the level of a Strategic Partnership. This is a clear sign that South Korea is seen as a key partner for the EU. The next EU-Korea Summit will be held in a few days here in Seoul. This meeting will provide an opportunity to intensify further our Strategic Partnership and show that it brings added value to both parties. It seems – I am happy to note – that both sides have a clear interest to widen the present dialogue into new fields.

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Global economic issues have dominated discussions and policymaking since the financial crisis in 2008. The focus has been on Europe and on the debt crisis. Today, there are signs that confidence is prevailing and that the Eurozone is getting through the hardest times. Over the past two years, several steps have been taken in order to strengthen EU’s economic governance. These include measures such as tighter EU surveillance of economic and fiscal policies of Member States, new tools to tackle macro-economic imbalances and temporary support mechanisms. The permanent European Stability Mechanism will start working in July this year. The future of Europe looks now very promising.

In a medium and longer term, European and East Asian economies face similar challenges. These include ageing populations, slow growth as well as constraints in the supply of clean and affordable energy and other natural resources. The Europe 2020, European Union’s growth strategy, sets out five ambitious objectives, which concern employment, innovation, education, social inclusion as well as climate and energy policies. These objectives coincide well with South Korea’s own strengths and priorities as presented, for example, in the Green Growth Strategy. I consider that there is great potential for a further enhanced cooperation between your country and the European Union.

Globalization, international cooperation and free trade help us to overcome global economic challenges. The signing of the Framework Agreement and the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2010 provide a good basis for intensified cooperation between your country and the European Union. The Free Trade Agreement has been provisionally applied since the 1st of July 2011, and is already bringing concrete benefits to economic actors of both sides.

The FTA is a very ambitious and progressive agreement. It addresses not only non tariff barriers but also new commercial possibilities for example in the field health and social care services. I would like to encourage companies to take advantage of the opportunities that are now available.

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Finland – as the other Nordic countries – is commonly considered reliable and a well-functioning society with clean environment and a high level of well-being. Scandinavian design is also world-famous. Actually, our capital Helsinki has currently the privilege of being the World Design Capital 2012. The theme of the year is “Embedding Design in Life”.

In Finland, as a small nation, our approach has long been that we can never compete with quantity, only with quality. For this, we need good level of expertise – and expertise is generated through investment in education, research and development as well as innovation.

South Korea relies very much on these same assets. For example, the OECD’s PISA surveys show that the quality of education in both countries has been ranked high.

One of Finland’s strengths – I believe – is the seamless co-operation between public and private sectors. Close cooperation between companies and universities has been crucial for development of high-tech solutions. Also, technology parks have emerged around universities so that private businesses can benefit from the research and services of public agencies.

These characteristics have certainly helped Finland to be successful in many global competitiveness reports.

Also, companies operating in Finland can benefit from our high standard of education and research, highly educated workforce and advanced information society. Our national R&D funds are available for foreign companies and research organizations for projects carried out in Finland.

I encourage Korean companies to take a closer look at Finland as an investment destination. Many Asian companies have already discovered Finland, including in particular the South Korean marine industry, which is a prime example of investment in Finland.

Green technology is another area where I believe that there is great potential and a common interest between our two countries. Given the global challenges, the economic growth in the future must be based on energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable production. Finnish companies have invested heavily in developing new environmentally friendly methods for clean energy production, water and waste treatment, district heating and in many sectors and fields across the industry.

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The business communities are key driving forces in improving our commercial relations. Today’s event provides excellent opportunities for both Finnish and Korean businesses to exchange ideas, network and strengthen the existing relations. I wish all the participants a very fruitful seminar and successful business-to-business interactions.